New Georgia House map fits spirit but not letter of court order

ATLANTA – Georgia House Republicans released a redistricting map for the lower legislative chamber Tuesday that appears to fall short of creating the five additional Black-majority districts ordered by a federal judge last month.

But the proposed map would create nearly two dozen House districts with white minorities that would give people of color – including Hispanic and Asian voters – an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

The three new Black-majority districts are all in the southern end of metro Atlanta, a part of the state U.S. District Judge Steve Jones focused on when he ruled the legislative districts the GOP-controlled General Assembly drew two years ago violate the Voting Rights Act. Black voters tend overwhelmingly to support Democratic candidates.

The new map moves House District 74 out of western Spalding and southern Fayette counties into southwestern Henry and southern Clayton counties. As a result, the district’s voting-age population would shift from just 24% Black to 62.8% Black.

The map also shifts House districts 115 and 117 within Henry County, which has seen a large increase in its Black population since the 2010 Census.

House District 115’s Black voting-age population would be 72.2% under the new map, up from a slight minority of 49.2% under the 2021 map. District 117 would see its Black voting-age population increase from 34.5% to 59.5%.

While no other House districts would shift from white majorities under the 2021 map to Black majorities under the proposed map, more than 20 districts either would have Black voting-age populations close to 50% or significant numbers of Hispanic and Asian voters who if they choose could join forces with Black voters to elect people of color to House seats.

The proposed House map modifies the boundaries of 56 of the 180 House districts, stretching from Cobb and Gwinnett counties south through the metro region to Houston and Peach counties south of Macon.

A proposed redistricting map state Senate Republicans released on Monday is in keeping with Jones’ order, adding two Black-majority districts to the upper chamber.

The judge also has ordered the General Assembly to create one additional Black-majority congressional district.

Lawmakers will convene until the Gold Dome Wednesday for the court-ordered special redistricting session. They’ll have to act quickly to meet the Dec. 8 deadline Jones set for them to complete their work.

Rosalynn Carter memorial service draws all five living first ladies

ATLANTA – All five current or former living first ladies said goodbye Tuesday to “one of the truly good people in this world,” as a former aide to Rosalynn Carter described the former first lady during a memorial service at Emory University.

President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton accompanied First Lady Jill Biden and former First Lady Hillary Clinton to the service at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the Emory campus. They sat beside former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump.

Rosalynn Carter died Nov. 19 at the age of 96 at the home she shared for decades with former President and former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. Despite having entered hospice care last February, Carter, who turned 99 last month, traveled to Atlanta from the couple’s home in Plains to attend Tuesday’s service.

Friends and relatives of Mrs. Carter praised her commitment during and after her time at the White House to causes from mental health to caregiving to eradicating disease in poverty-stricken Third World countries.

But to son Chip Carter, her contributions were personal. He credited her with convincing him to enter treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, literally saving his life.

“My mother was the glue who held the family together through the ups and downs and thicks and thins,” he said. “She believed in us and took care of us.”

Journalist Judy Woodruff, who became a friend of Mrs. Carter after covering her career at her husband’s side both in the Governor’s Mansion and the White House, said she revolutionized the part first ladies play in American government and politics.

“What we witnessed was a first lady who saw her role as going well beyond the essential warm and welcoming host to being a close and trusted advisor, in essence an extension of the president himself,” Woodruff said.

Longtime aide and friend Kathryn Cade talked about the extensive contributions Mrs. Carter made after leaving Washington.

“The issues that claimed her time and attention – mental health, support for caregivers, childhood immunization, problems of the elderly … were not glamours or sexy causes, yet she brought leadership to problems that impact millions,” Cade said.

Grandson Jason Carter, who following Jimmy Carter’s example by serving in the state Senate and running for governor in 2014, credited his grandmother with building the Carter Center “from an idea into a powerhouse for human rights.”

In perhaps the most poignant moment of Tuesday’s service, daughter Amy Carter read from a love letter her father wrote to her mother 75 years ago. She said she did so because he wasn’t able to address the gathering. The couple was married for 77 years.

Georgia’s current political leaders also attended Tuesday’s service, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp, and Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Mrs. Carter will be laid to rest Wednesday in Plains.

Kemp chief of staff moving to Georgia Power

Trey Kilpatrick

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp’s chief of staff is headed to an executive position with Georgia Power.

The Atlanta-based utility Tuesday named Trey Kilpatrick senior vice president of external affairs effective Jan. 15.

Kilpatrick became Kemp’s chief of staff in 2020 after serving the late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in various roles, including deputy chief of staff. Before that, he was vice president for an Atlanta-based investment firm.

“Trey has an obvious passion for helping Georgia grow and thrive, serving all of its citizens and making our communities better,” said Kim Greene, Georgia Power’s president, chairman and CEO. “That’s a passion he and all of us at Georgia Power share.”

Kemp wished Kilpatrick well in his new role.

“Over the last three years, Trey’s dedicated leadership as chief of staff has enabled our administration to deliver on the promises I made to the people of our state and keep Georgia the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” the governor said.

Kemp announced that Lauren Curry, his deputy chief of staff, will take over as chief of staff effective Jan. 15, becoming the first female to step into that role on a permanent basis in Georgia’s history. Brad Bohannon, currently the Kemp administration’s director of government affairs and policy, will become deputy chief of staff.

State Senate study committee recommends repealing CON law

ATLANTA – A committee made up of Georgia lawmakers, health-care executives, and an insurance industry representative Tuesday recommended repealing the state law governing hospital construction and medical services.

The Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need (CON) Reform concluded the decades-old CON law is preventing advances in health-care delivery, particularly in rural Georgia.

“Repeal seems to be the most logical conclusion I can draw,” Dr. Steven Wertheim, a former co-president of Resurgens Orthopaedics and a member of the panel, said shortly before the 6-3 vote.

Georgia’s CON law requires applicants wishing to build a new medical facility or provide a new health-care service to demonstrate to the state Department of Community Health that the facility or service is needed in that community.

The General Assembly passed the law in 1979 to comply with a federal mandate aimed at reducing health-care costs by avoiding duplication. However, Congress repealed the federal statute in 1986, leaving the CON issue up to the states.

While most states have retained CON statutes in some form, 11 have done away with their state CON laws, including California and Texas. South Carolina repealed its CON statute last year, with the exception of long-term care facilities.

In Georgia, legislative Republicans have pushed for years to either repeal CON or ease the law’s restrictions.

During this year’s General Assembly session, the Senate took up two bills, one calling for repeal of CON except for long-term care facilities, and the other exempting most rural hospitals from the law. Neither made it past the Senate.

Advocacy groups representing Georgia hospitals have opposed efforts to significantly reform CON or repeal the law entirely. They have argued that for-profit health-care providers would siphon off paying patients from rural hospitals, leaving them in worse financial straits than before.

Acknowledging that repealing CON might be too heavy a lift for the General Assembly, the study committee also recommended a series of reform measures that would stop short of getting rid of the law.

Those fallback recommendations include exempting maternal and neonatal care from going through the CON process. CON exemptions also would apply to medical research centers and to health-care facilities wishing to add new hospital or mental-health beds or expand the number of beds they already provide.

The study committee’s recommendations now move to the full Senate for consideration during the 2024 legislative session starting in January.

New state Senate map creates two new Black majority districts

ATLANTA – A proposed state Senate redistricting map released Monday would create two additional Black majority districts in the General Assembly’s upper chamber in keeping with a federal court order.

Senate District 17 in Henry and Newton counties and Senate District 28 in Douglas and Fulton counties would become majority Black under the proposed map, released two days ahead of a special legislative session on redistricting beginning Wednesday.

The addition of two Black majority state Senate districts would comply with a ruling U.S. District Judge Steve Jones handed down last month that found the congressional, state House and state Senate redistricting maps the Republican-controlled General Assembly drew two years ago in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Jones also ordered state lawmakers to add five Black majority seats to the Georgia House and one Black majority seat to the state’s congressional delegation.

Currently, Republicans hold 33-23 and 102-78 advantages in the state Senate and House, respectively. The GOP holds nine of Georgia’s 14 U.S. House seats.

The 17th Senate District is currently served by Republican Brian Strickland of McDonough, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The 28th Senate District is currently represented by the GOP’s Matt Brass of Newnan, chairman of the Rules Committee.

Jones’ ruling ordered Black majority legislative and congressional districts added in portions of metro Atlanta that have seen dramatic growth in Black residents in recent years.

Under the proposed map, the voting-age population of Strickland’s 17th Senate District would go from 59.4% white to 60.4% Black. That would be accomplished by shifting the district’s boundaries westward to take in a large portion of majority-Black Clayton County.

Changes to the 28th District would be more significant. The district Brass now serves would be shifted northward out of Coweta County to include southwest Fulton County, eastern Douglas County, and southern Carroll County.

The voting-age population of the 28th Senate District would go from 69.4% white to 53.4% Black.

The proposed map also would modify 13 other Senate districts from their current boundaries. Eight of those districts would remain majority Black, while five would remain majority white.

The lawsuit that led to Jones’ ruling pointed to a 2020 Census that showed all of Georgia’s population growth during the decade of the 2010s was among people of color, while the state’s white population declined. However, that minority population growth was not reflected in the redistricting maps the legislature drew in 2021, the plaintiffs argued.

The proposed Senate map will be followed later this week by draft maps for Georgia’s state House and congressional districts. Lawmakers must approve new district lines by a week from Friday, the deadline Jones set for them to finish their work.

Appellate court upholds statewide PSC elections

ATLANTA – A federal appellate court has upheld the method Georgia uses to elect members of the state Public Service Commission (PSC), reversing a lower-court ruling.

In a decision handed down late last week, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals endorsed the system of electing the five commissioners statewide rather than by district.

A lawsuit filed by four Black Fulton County residents had argued that electing the commissioners statewide diluted Black voting strength in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, making it more difficult for Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice. Specifically, the suit targeted a map of the PSC districts the General Assembly’s Republican majorities approved last year.

The state argued that have a statewide body in charge of regulating energy in Georgia would avoid provincialism. On Friday, the appellate court agreed in a 34-page ruling.

“If each commissioner represented only a district, then important questions of utility regulation – such as the location of energy and infrastructure – could turn into a zero-sum game between commissioners beholden to their districts instead of a collaborative effort to reach the best result for the entire state,” the three-judge appellate panel wrote.

The decision would appear to clear the way for elections to the PSC, which have been on hold while the case was pending.

The terms of two commissioners – Tim Echols and Fitz Johnson – expired at the end of last year, but the two were allowed to continue in their seats.